Dora B. Montefiore, New Age February 1905
Source: New Age, p. 85, 9 February 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Seven years ago a resolution to grant women degrees was proposed at the Cambridge Union, and was defeated by 1,083 to 138 votes. This year a similar resolution was carried by 134 to 121. The uninitiated may enquire why this vast discrepancy in the number of voters? Seven years ago 1,221 voted; this year only 255 recorded their wishes on the matter. The explanation is that in 1898 prejudice and alarmist fears against women’s influence and emancipation were more rampant than they are now; and at that time an urgent “whip” was sent round to all members of the Union begging them to make a sacrifice of their own comfort and convenience and journey up to Cambridge in order to defend their Alma Mater from the incursions of pushful woman. The blind, the maimed, the halt; the aged, responded gallantly to the call, and woman was kept for the time being “in her place.” Meanwhile time and gallant Dublin University have been fighting on our side, with the result that when a similar resolution was suggested in 1905 no masculine panic was created; the elder, and less active, members of the Union were allowed to doze comfortably at home in their arm-chairs, and the alarming and revolutionary resolution has been allowed to pass by a majority of thirteen.
We women, as the nurturers and conservers of the race, should recognise with gratitude the recent scientific victories of Japan, which should appeal to us, through their healing and constructive power, with far greater force than do Japan’s destructive victories. According to returns obtained from the chief surgeon with General Oku’s army, there have been only 40 deaths from disease in his entire command since its landing on May 6 last. The actual figures are these 24,642 cases treated up to December 1; 18,578 recovered, 40 died, and 5,609 were sent back to Japan. When we read further that among 25,000 troops there were only 193 cases of typhoid, and 342 of dysentery, we realise that sanitary and preventive science has triumphed signally over the two great camp followers of war. Of the wounded 16 per cent. died, 19 per cent. recovered on the field, and 65 per cent. were sent back to their country. War under modern conditions is the most senseless and illogical way of settling differences between nations that it is possible to imagine. There is something Gilbertian in the paradoxical stupidity, undertaken in all seriousness by statesmen and military men, of training, equipping, and feeding at enormous expense, large bodies of men in order to expose them to destruction or to the lingering agony of wounds; whilst at the same time they train, equip, and feed with equal care another huge body of men and women whose sole duty is to heal, nurse, and tend those who have been deliberately exposed, in the most barbarous manner, to death or to horrible wounds. As long as men and women lived in an age of barbarism, and human life was counted of no value, war was logical and the efforts of one side were directed towards exterminating the fighting men on the other side. But now that we call ourselves civilised, now that we reckon human life of so much value that we call to our help every resource of sanitary and of healing science in order to protect and prolong life, war is an absurdity in which women, at least, should refuse to take part, either on the destructive or preservative side; although we may rejoice in humanitarianism and sanitary science triumphing in the long run, and, exposing, through its triumph, the stupidity of the destroyers. The figures chronicled by the chief surgeon with General Oku’s army are, we are told, unequalled in the history of warfare; and we may, perhaps, be allowed to hope that the Japanese nation, which is setting the pace in more ways than one to modern progress, may invent some less antiquated and ridiculous way of settling international differences than the wholesale destruction of precious lives, which have cost motherhood and their native land so dear.
I have received numerous letters, from working women and others interested in the subject, about the L.R.C. vote given recently against Women’s Suffrage. If I may venture a prophecy on the subject, I would suggest that this vote, far from being a setback to our cause, may tend to strengthen it, in that it will consolidate the friends of Women’s Suffrage, who are also the friends of real Adult Suffrage (male and female); and bring into clearer outline those who are in reality opposed to the enfranchisement of women, but who are hiding their opposition behind a pretended zeal for Adult Suffrage, pure and simple – well knowing that full Adult Suffrage is not at present, in England, a question of practical politics. Many, also, who shout for Adult Suffrage mean thereby Manhood Suffrage, which they mean to snatch at, if opportunity arises, without suffering the qualms of wounded democratic susceptibilities which became so poignant over the question of enfranchising women on the same terms as men now exercise the franchise. It may console some of my correspondents, who describe the speeches of some of the Trades Union delegates as being not only anti-suffrage, but anti-woman, to know that those speakers condemned themselves, by their vote, out of their own mouths. They voted against supporting a measure which, when carried, will enfranchise a few women in proportion to the number of enfranchised men. They deprecated women’s influence in politics as being reactionary and undesirable; and then they voted for an amendment to support a measure which, if carried, would give women a large majority of voting power over men. The inference is obvious. Equally obvious is the fact that “the change beyond the change,” of which I wrote last week, is already, as regards women, to be seen ahead. What Zona Valiance prophesied is coming to pass: it is not education, not the vote which will in the end do most for women, but the brave, consistent, and dignified struggle for emancipation, which is going, to lift women as a whole to higher purpose and endeavour.
What thou has not by suffering bought.
Presume, then, not to teach,
is becoming the watchword of the evolved and conscious woman whose work is for the common good, and who, in the carrying out of that work, purges her soul of self and its desires. A body of working women publish in the Labour Column of the Daily News a manifesto reminding those who may have forgotten that the L.R.C. last year passed a resolution in favour of Woman Suffrage on a far narrower basis than the one proposed this year; and similar resolutions were passed at the Conferences of the S.D.F. and I.L.P.; whilst the majority of organised women have expressed themselves in favour of being granted the exercise of the franchise on the same terms as men now, or as they may in the future, exercise it. Doubtless Trades Union Parliamentary candidates know their own business, but it seems hardly politic on the eve of an election to alienate needlessly large bodies of women who feel in this hostile vote given at Liverpool a veiled hostility to the public claims of women. Two leading Socialists, however, I have reason to believe, do not look upon the amendment as a mandate, and mean to work all the more strenuously for the cause of justice to women. Keir Hardie must be sent back to Parliament to continue the good work he has begun and Philip Snowden must be helped in his candidature by working women, who feel that Hardie will need co-workers in his campaign.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.